On the far western side of Canada, off the coast of mainland British Columbia, there is a large landmass called Vancouver Island. On its western side lies Pacific Rim National Park which includes Long Beach, Broken Islands, and the West Coast Trail.
It is beautiful! Temperate rainforest, sandstone cliffs, waterfalls, caves, and beaches. Take a look at this: Parks Canada.
The West Coast Trail was originally cut for a telegraph line back in 1890 and as a means to assist those who happened to end up on the coast due to shipwreck. The area along this coast is known as the Graveyard of the Pacific. The trail is 75 km long, which means a 6-8 day hike starting at Patcheena Bay near Bamfield and ending at Gordon River near Port Renfrew.
There are two things on the western coast of Canada that really fascinate me: big trees and spawning salmon.
The big trees that grown along this coast are the Western Red Cedar, Douglas Fir and Sitka Spruce.
Western Red Cedar can grow up to 60 metres tall. Their wood is very valuable wood as it is resistant to decay and insects and remains good for over 100 years. It has a lovely but strong aroma. The native people used it for canoes, totem poles, building their long houses, and other useful things. The bark tears off in long strips and was used for mats, fishing line, and nets. This tree can live over 1000 years and is sometimes called the “Tree of Life”.
Douglas Fir can reach a height of 85 metres on the coast. It is a tough, hard wood good for building wharves and bridges. The cones interest me because the little bract that sticks out of the scales looks like the tail and legs of a little mouse hiding in the cone.
Sitka spruce usually grows to about 70 metres but the tallest (Carmanah Giant) is 95 metres tall and about 500 to 700 years old. Natives used the roots for hats, baskets, rope and fishing line. The pitch was useful to caulk boats, waterproof harpoons and fishing gear, and as medicine for burns, boils, and skin irritations. The wood is soft, light and flexible but strong. It is used for sounding boards in pianos and violins.
Take a virtual walk through the rainforest: 3 Minutes of Heaven
Salmon are the lifeblood of the rainforest. There are five species of salmon: chinook (the largest), coho, chum, sockeye, and pink (the smallest). They are anadromous, which means they are born in fresh water, live most of their lives at sea, and then return to the same river to lay their eggs.
They migrate to the rivers in the fall and may travel 50 km per day upstream. They do not eat while they are making this journey which may take up to 12 days. As the days go on, their bodies become flabby and torn and they change colour before they finally lay their eggs and then die.
Many are eaten by bears and wolves during their journey, but they are a major source of nourishment for the rainforest soil and trees.
The eggs lie in the riverbed, covered by small rocks and pebbles over the winter. In the late winter or early spring they begin to hatch and for the first four months the live off the yolk sac. Some species head off directly for the ocean, others stay in the stream for a year or two. A salmon may lay around 7000 eggs, but it is likely that only a few will live to grow up. Many are eaten by mink, otters, raccoons, ducks, bears and other fish.
Where the rivers meet the sea, an estuary exists where fresh and salt water mix. It is a place full of nutrients and organic matter that has been carried downstream. Many of the baby fish will spend days or months in the estuary before they leave for the open ocean. They will spend up to 4-5 years out in the ocean before they begin the trip back to the stream they hatched in to start the cycle all over again.
Unfortunately clearcutting and other practices have damaged many coastal streams and negatively impacted the salmon populations. There are restoration efforts underway and maybe it will not be too late to make a difference.
Learn more about salmon: Pacific Salmon Foundation
- North American Rainforest Scrapbook by Virginia Wright-Frierson
- The Tree by Dana Lyons
- Salmon Forest by David Suzuki
- Salmon Stream by Carol Reed-Jones
- Salmon Creek by Annette LeBox
These are lovely books as well about the Great Bear Rainforest which is on the mainland:
- Nowhere Else on Earth by Caitlyn Vernon
- The Salmon Bears by Ian McAllister
- The Sea Wolves by Ian McAllister
- The Great Bear Sea by Ian McAllister